Lance Thomas Makes Roster Thanks to Tenacity

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

For the first three years of his NBA career, Lance Thomas had to scrap his way onto a roster by making a team through his work in training camp. This preseason with the Thunder, he made it four in a row.

The forward who spent the last three seasons with New Orleans entered training camp with the Thunder having started 19 games in his NBA career, so he understood the rigors of NBA practices and games before stepping foot inside the INTEGRIS Thunder Development Center. Once there, the 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward showed the toughness, intensity and physicality necessary to be an asset on the Thunder roster on both sides of the ball.

It was difficult for Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks to release Michael Jenkins, Talib Zanna and Richard Solomon, the other three training camp invitees, but felt that Thomas stood out and earned his spot on the roster.

“The thing that really stood out in the preseason is that I thought (General Manager) Sam (Presti) did a great job of giving us four guys that were eager to be an NBA player,” Brooks said. “They gave us great effort and they gave us great work.”

“Lance is a hard worker,” Brooks continued. “He’s a player that can guard multiple positions. He gives you everything he has and that’s what you want.”

In 106 career NBA games, Thomas has averaged 3.0 points, 2.3 rebounds and 46.5 percent shooting from the field in 12.4 minutes per game. During the 2013-14 preseason with the Thunder, Thomas scored 4.8 points and grabbed 4.5 rebounds in 21.2 minutes per game while going 11-for-12 from the free throw line.

On Saturday, Thomas arrived at the development center like he did every other day of U.S. Cellular Thunder Training Camp. As the last training camp invitee standing, Thomas knew that he must respect the team’s decision to keep him by displaying just as much verve, focus and heart in practice today and in the future as he did when he was scrapping to make the team.

“It’s a blessing and an honor,” Thomas said. “I just kept fighting, regardless of what was going to happen. My approach wasn’t going to change. It’s not going to change even though I made the roster. I still have a lot of things to work on and a lot of things are expected of me from the coaching staff and my teammates. I have to keep pushing.”

Thomas' intensity was on full display on Saturday, as the 2010 undrafted free agent went toe-to-toe with three former first-round NBA Draft picks – Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams. The quartet was battling in one-on-one drills, and each man took the chance to challenge their teammates extremely seriously. Thomas held his own, keeping pace with the trio of Thunder rotation players by scoring and defending at a high level.

Most importantly, the intensity and aggressiveness level didn’t drop off in the slightest when Thomas was battling his teammates. That mentality is something the forward possessed at a young age, but the Brooklyn-born and New Jersey-raised forward has developed the ability to play with consistent effort every night, on every possession.

After attending Scotch Plains Fanwood High School, Thomas transferred to Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School, leading his team to two Prep-A Division New Jersey State Titles. That’s where he transformed into the type of player he is today, while refining himself over the years by playing for Mike Krzyzewski and winning a National Championship at Duke University and playing under Monty Williams in New Orleans.

“I’ve always had it, but it was taken to another level, especially when I played for Coach Danny Hurley when I went to St. Benedict’s,” Thomas said. “He really brought that out of me. That’s something that I realize is a talent. Waking up every day and bringing it 110 percent isn’t easy, but I’ve trained at it for so long, that it’s second nature.”

“I try not to let anybody out-do me,” Thomas explained. “I never regret a performance of mine. I always give it my all. If a guy gets the best of me, I’ll tip my hat to them, but I never leave the court thinking that I could have done better.”

Thomas’ perseverance is something that the Thunder staff, but particularly Brooks, appreciates. The Thunder’s head coach spent nearly his entire ten-year career in a position much like Thomas was in to begin this season- fighting to make a roster. Thomas’ hard work, relentlessness and ability to bring it on every single possession is something that the organization values.

Those qualities are what define players on the Thunder roster in general, so the team was thrilled with the chance to continue to layer its program with a player with those same characteristics.

“There are some players who are more talented than other players,” Brooks said. “That’s just the way the world works. What you want is to maximize your ability and give it your best. Every practice he has had with us, he’s never taken one possession off. Those are the winners that we have in our program and we want to continue to build our program around.”

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